Joining the club
Everyone's diagnosis story is different, but it does usually entail a certain level of stress and turmoil. After all, who goes to the doctor when they're well, right? My diagnosis culminated around the time of my first significant manic episode - I was very scared and ready to take my mental health seriously and reach out for help. I was also very lucky to have a strong support system in place, and to be ready to accept both therapeutic and psychiatric help.
All in all, studies show that "the average length of time between a person's first episode and getting the correct diagnosis is eight years." I don't personally remember when I started having episodes, but I have struggled with mental illness since I was a child. Eight years is a long time y'all! Some of us have spent a whole chunk of our lives untreated, without the proper resources. Finally reaching out and being receptive to help can be scary af, but in my experience being alone with an unnameable It is far, far worse.
So -- getting diagnosed. For me, it happened at an emergency psychiatric care center. I didn't know what was wrong (although someone who knows me very well had gently suggested bipolar), but I know that it was getting worse - that I was losing more self-control every day, and the "me" I knew was slipping away. So I shared my messy, embarrassing, perfectly human thoughts and feelings with a professional and got my diagnosis - Bipolar Type I.
I won't lie to you, for me there was loss and grief in this diagnosis. It hurt like hell to be labeled bipolar, and sometimes it still does. It felt like a personal failure to this recovering perfectionist, and I felt broken. I felt hopeless, things like looking at our suicide rate (25-60%) would send me spiraling. Being bipolar, to me, looked like fighting all the time... an eternally exhausting fight. After getting diagnosed, there was the relief of knowing, but also the pain of understanding. I had faced and would continue to face some very powerful struggles. I would have to be more careful than my peers (with things like sleep and drinking.) I would also have a long journey ahead of me in terms of finding the right medication - getting diagnosed is just step one!
Being bipolar puts an extra weight of responsibility on you, but joining the club also lightens you. You have access to so much information, so many ideas and people to relate to, and things to try. You can begin to be aware of your history, patterns, how to manage your emotions and regulate yourself... you can begin to have a more consistent self, longer periods of stability, and you can begin to build and keep on building! Getting diagnosed is a powerful first step in owning who you are (a wonderful bipolar bear), and deciding that you're going to step up and manage your disorder - that you will work with it, and you will LIVE with it.
Get multiple opinions if you can. The different types of Bipolar can be easy to misdiagnose, and that can affect medication.
Be proud of yourself for getting diagnosed! It's not easy to reach out and ask for help, and you are very brave and self-loving for doing so.
Give yourself time to accept that you have BP, and know that it's okay to grieve the loss of feeling ""normal."" It can be a heavy label and it's a lot to take at once.
Know that your diagnosis is just the beginning of your journey, health and otherwise. You are bipolar AND so much more!
Welcome to the club!